The head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) warned that the war in Ukraine could last “for years” as President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed on Sunday that his troops would not surrender the south of the country to Russia after his first frontline visit over there.
Ukraine said it had also repulsed new attacks by Russian forces on the eastern front, where weeks of fierce fighting have been ongoing as Moscow attempts to capture the industrial Donbas region.
While Ukraine remained defiant, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned Western countries must be prepared to support Kiev long-term through a protracted war.
“We have to be prepared that this will take years,” Stoltenberg told the German daily Bild.
“We must not weaken our support for Ukraine, even if the costs are high – not only in terms of military support, but also because of rising energy and food prices.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued a similar warning, urging continued support for Kiev or risking “the biggest victory for aggression” since World War II.
“Time is now the critical factor,” Johnson wrote in an article for the Sunday Times after his second visit to Kiev, calling on the West to ensure Ukraine has “the strategic stamina to survive and ultimately triumph.”
‘Give everything back’
Russian forces have focused their firepower on eastern and southern Ukraine in recent weeks since they failed to take the capital Kiev after the February 24 lightning strike.
Zelensky made a rare trip outside Kiev on Saturday to the inveterate Black Sea city of Mykolaiv, visiting troops near and in the neighboring region of Odessa for the first time since the Russian invasion.
“We will not give the south away to anyone, we will give back everything that is ours and the sea will be Ukrainian and safe,” he said in a video posted to Telegram as he made his way to Kiev.
He said he had spoken to troops and police during his visit.
“Their mood is confident and looking into their eyes it is clear that not all of them doubt our victory,” he said.
But Zelensky admitted the losses were “significant”, adding: “Many houses were destroyed, civil logistics were disrupted, there are many social problems.”
Mykolaiv is a prime target for Russia as it is en route to the strategic Black Sea port of Odessa.
Blocked by Russia, the residents of Odessa have turned their attention to rallying the efforts of the home front.
“Every day, including weekends, I come to make camouflage nets for the army,” said Natalia Pinchenkova, 49, behind a large Union flag, in acknowledgment to Britain for its support of Ukraine since the conflict broke out.
Soldiers in Mykolaiv, meanwhile, tried to keep their pre-war routines alive, with someone saying he would not give up his vegan diet on the front lines.
Oleksandr Zhuhan said he was given a package by a network of volunteers to maintain his plant-based diet.
“There was pate and vegan sausages, hummus, soy milk… all for free,” the 37-year-old drama teacher said happily.
Back in Kiev, as the shockwaves of war reverberated around the world, thousands gathered to pay tribute to a young man – Roman Ratushny, a leading figure in Ukraine’s pro-European Maidan movement, who was killed in a battle with Russians in the east of the country earlier this month, just 24 years old.
In front of the coffin draped in a yellow-and-blue Ukrainian flag at the foot of a monument that overlooks the capital’s sprawling Independence Square, people of all ages saluted his memory.
“I think it’s important to be here because he is a hero of Ukraine and we should remember him,” Dmytro Ostrovsky, a 17-year-old high school student, told AFP.
The loss put a human face on the Ukrainians’ shared grief as the bloodshed continues.
The worst fighting continues to take place in the eastern industrial region of Donbas, with fighting in villages outside the city of Severodonetsk, which Russia has been trying to capture for weeks.
“There is an expression: prepare for the worst and the best will come,” the governor of the eastern region of Lugansk, Sergiy Gaiday, told AFP in an interview from the Ukrainian-controlled city of Lysychansk across the river. from Severodonetsk.
“Of course we have to prepare,” he said, wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying ammunition and a tourniquet.
Ukrainian forces said on Sunday they had reversed Russian attacks on villages near Severodonetsk.
“Our units repulsed the attack in the Toshkivka area,” the Ukrainian army said on Facebook. “The enemy has withdrawn and is regrouping.”
It said Russian troops “rushed” toward the village of Orikhove but had “successfully repulsed” an attack near the village.
In Lysychansk, Governor Gaiday said it was “painful” to see his home city of Severodonetsk being shelled and that people he knew were dying were “painful”.
“I’m human, but I bury this deep inside me,” he said, adding that his job is to “help people as much as possible.”
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